Basketball seasons are long enough without the entirety of the schedule playing out publicly as a coach’s last time doing something.
For Bob Chipman, virtually every game has some degree of symbolism.
“I’ve been distracted, I must admit,’’ said the Washburn coach, who announced before the season this would be his last go-round with the Ichabods, ending a 38-year run as head coach and an association with the university dating more than 40 years.
“You want this team to finish, but I just sense my family — they love Washburn — wants me to finish this with a big-time year. I sense my players feel that some. We look, mentally, sometimes to be exhausted. Not physically at all. Just mentally. It definitely has been tough.’’
The Ichabods’ record reflects the difficulties. Expected to challenge for a high finish in the MIAA, the Ichabods stand 8-8, with a 16-9 overall mark.
“We’re aware of this being his last year and we want to send him out the right way, and not send him out on a bad note,’’ junior guard Cameron Wiggins said. “It’s motivation for sure. We know what we’re capable of, so it’s not only pressure for him, but for us too. We know what we want to achieve.’’
It is basketball. All possibilities eventually hinge on postseason play.
As for the schedule, each of WU’s last four games are at home. They began that friendly stretch with no benevolence, trouncing Emporia State 90-63 on Valentine’s Day.
The stretch run — labeled as a “reboot’’ by Chipman and his players — provides the Ichabods an opportunity to flush disappointing performances that kept them from mounting win streaks any longer than two games in MIAA play, while stuck in the middle of the conference pack.
The Bods certainly seemed to play with a free mind against ESU, a rival they were trailing in the MIAA race.
They presented Chipman with one of his best parting gifts to date — a blowout against WU’s biggest rival. The win left the coach 55-26 in games against the Hornets.
“We do need to get over some of our past losses,’’ said junior forward Brady Skeens, “because some of them are tough, but we also need to remember how bad we played and what we struggled with in order to get better here.
“Resetting the season like that has helped out a little bit, and we’ve played with a lot more energy, especially on the defensive end.’’
Not only is this Chipman’s last season, there was also the quest for him to attain a milestone. He became the 14th coach at all NCAA levels to crack the 800-win plateau.
“After that it’s gotten a lot easier, with less pressure and just wanting to play,’’ Skeens said. “It’s been a lot better since then. We struggled a little bit, but the last few games we found our tempo again.’’
In addition, Chipman has found some peace with this being his last season.
He remains engaged at games, “still into it and totally in charge,’’ while finding it difficult to keep his seat. Even in the final stages of the Emporia State win, with subs on the floor, Chipman was shouting instructions.
“From working through it, I’m coming to grips with this really being the best time (to step away),’’ he said. “It’s just been confusing through the year and for my coaches it’s been confusing. Everyone’s handled it really well, though.’’
The next Washburn coach will be presented a solid foundation. Just two players on the roster are seniors, including none of WU’s starters.
Chipman, though, is working his Division I connections to find a big man who could potentially transfer, and is also attempting to arrange another exhibition game against a D-I opponent.
“There’s still a lot for me to do to try to set the group up,’’ he said. “It depends on how quickly a coach comes in and who the coach is, and that will determine how far I take things. So there’s plenty to do.’’
Judging by the “reboot,’’ wins remain the top priority.
Contact Kevin Haskin at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.